A Lamentation of Swans
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Swan Lake”
Keller Auditorium, 16 February 2013
by Dean Speer
Sold-out and filled to the brim with happy ballet-goers, Portland’s Keller Auditorium fairly hummed with the warm goodness of anticipation, excitement, and the glory that is Oregon Ballet Theatre’s revival of its Christopher Stowell staging and production of the iconic, “Swan Lake.”
Opening Night was perfection itself, only very slightly marred by a mechanical device that failed to fully shoot out steam for the theatrical exit and magical disappearance in Act III of devious Von Rothbart [Brett Bauer] and his hypnotic and manipulative daughter, Odile, who seduces – by turning fouettées – the prince into believing she’s actually Odette, the Swan Queen he’s fallen in love with at the lakeside the night before. Bauer covered this well by taking his long black cape and, covering them both, exited stage left.
Odette/Odile, interpreted by retiring principal dancer Yuka Iino, was finely etched with a sense of pathos and tragedy. Iino, whom I first met and was very impressed by in class at PNB about 10 years ago, possesses a formidable technique – she can make multiple turns easily including “sequenced” pirouettes such as triple regular pirouette, then finishing with a double or triple pirouette in attitude. I cannot believe it’s been 9 years already that she’s been with OBT nor that she’s chosen to go out with a “Swan Song.” She is one artist who will be missed from the stage. Iino has distinguished herself in many, many roles and has developed a very large OBT fan base.
Her Act II lakeside scene was filigreed and her Act III sharp. Beginning with double fouettées for the iconic 32 that dazzle the Prince, she changed to singles for the last 16 and had a bit of trouble sticking the landing but quickly stepped back into fourth tendu front to show a solid finish while staying in character.
Yang Zou was her Prince Siegfried, who was shown at his best by Act I with choreography that highlighted his – and the other men’s -- considerable strength of technique: entrechats, turns, and double tours en l’air. Zou was fine in Act II and III but more of a porteur and prop than foil to the Swan Queen. Part of this can be laid at the feet of the character himself, Siegfried not being the sharpest knife in the drawer. After all, he keeps finding Odette, then losing her, then finding her again, then losing her again...
The Act I Pas de Trois was about the best I’ve seen. Xuan Cheng, Julia Rowe, and their equal partner Chauncey Parsons were terrific, each exemplifying clarity, strong action and attack, and a sense of joy that bounced across the footlights. Rowe’s variation of repeated back cabrioles [in arabesque – sauté fouettée, then the sauté arabesque into the leg beat of the cabriole] was impressive, her feet and knees fully stretched every time.
Act II’s Dance of the Four Little Swans in the public’s mind is probably the best known excerpt and is often spoofed, yet its clock-like precision and timing and sense of unity that comes with it never fails to impress. Kudos to Ashley Dawn, Ansa Deguchi, Kelsie Nobriga, and Ms. Rowe. It also serves as an interlude to help attenuate and give breath to what we all know will not be a happy outcome, giving us more time to enjoy the lyric Pas de deux when Odette and the Prince meet, he falling in love and promising to be true.
Dramatis Personae include the experience of OBT School Director, Damara Bennett as the Queen Mother, who made the most of each gesture, miming her intentions on getting her son married off and of her displeasure when he balks. I also liked how she keeps the story action going in Act III as she tried to introduce herself and welcome Odile [whom she also is led to believe is the Odette with whom her son has become smitten] to the ball but is not allowed to touch, finally collapsing into the arms of her attendants as the duplicity is revealed and the uninvited guests, Odile and Von Rothbart, quickly depart, having spoiled all the fun – at least for the others.
Third Acts in Petipa ballets are where the “divertissements” dances are and this “Swan Lake” is inclusive of another Pas de Trois [Xuan Cheng, Haiyan Wu, and Parsons], a showcase for the six princesses, Spanish [Candace Bouchard, Ansa Deguchi with their male counterparts, Brian Simcoe and Lucas Threefoot], Neapolitan [Julia Rowe and Javier Ubell], Russian [Alison Roper], and a lively Czardas led by Makino Hayashi and Adam Hartley.
Particularly memorable were Roper’s Russian which contrasts the mournful soul of Russia with its fast and lively charm. Roper really infuses meaning and shape into each movement phrase and knows how to make a dance “sing,” sustaining a “line” throughout.
Also etched in the memory was the joyful playfulness and the sheer energy of the tambourine Neopolitan dance of Rowe and Ubell, each blessed with a strong, strong technique and the facility to jump and to make this small dance bounce.
Except for the choice of a musical omission [the big waltz for the two big swans in Act II, presumably to keep the overall length of the ballet tighter], Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production has proven yet again to be one of my favorite versions and of its enduring popularity.
Stowell did an excellent, thorough, and detailed job in staging and putting together the myriad puzzle of pieces that came together so well under his tenure. While his leadership will be missed, we’re lucky to have the legacy of his work – the level of OBT was a whole, including the dancers [terrific] and of a repertory deserving of attracting such a high cadre of artists and of the many in the greater community who support it.
And once again, we were thrilled to have the ballet accompanied by the mighty OBT Orchestra, led by its experienced conductor, Niel DePonte.